SpaceX, which plans to be the first commercial operator of manned space flights, reached a milestone when it got its first license for spacecraft to reenter Earth's atmosphere from orbit.

The license, from the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation, has made SpaceX the first private company to be cleared for re-entering orbit with a manned spacecraft.

SpaceX is planning to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket in December. The Dragon capsule will orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth's atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.

This will be the first attempt by a private company to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only 6 nations or governmental agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.

NASA, under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, is attempting to foster the growth of commerical supply services to the International Space Station. SpaceX is the first flight so far under the program. 

After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX plans to make at least 12 flights to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of a resupply services contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the orbtal transport and resupply missions will yield valuable flight experience towards this goal.

The license is valid for 1 year from the date of issue.